Underestimating the Annapolis summit is not a good idea. Indeed, it is completely clear that the event will only slightly advance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s resolution, if at all. Yet this is not the reason why Condoleezza Rice initiated this brief and multi-participant meeting in the United States.
The genuine and major objective of the US Administration is to produce a diplomatic show of force in Annapolis that would make it clear to all elements involved in the Mideast theater, as well as to the audience at home, how robust Washington’s status is in the region and in global politics.
The need for such show of force stems from what looks like a decline in America’s status in the international arena as a result of several developments: The blows it sustained in Iraq; the difficulties in curbing Iran’s nuclear project; the threat on Musharraf’s pro-Western regime in Pakistan; radical Islam’s Gaza takeover; and the boost in the Taliban’s position in Afghanistan.
America currently needs a show of force that will reunite the pro-Western camp around it and encourage its allies to continue the struggle against radical Islam’s belligerent intention to take over the region, including its oil resources and the nuclear weapons already there.
How do we know that this is the objective behind the Annapolis conference? First, the lengthy invitee list, which includes no less than 40 countries and international bodies, as well as some that have a slight to non-existent connection to our regional conflict. The second indication is the very modest official goal of the meeting, which is supposed to be very impressive in terms of the number and quality of participants: In order to declare the “renewal of negotiations on a final-status agreement” and express international support for it, there is no need to convene a mass event that will last only a few hours.
What will happen in Annapolis is not a convention with substance, but rather, at best, a photo opportunity on US soil.
The real, unofficial objective also clearly defines what will be considered success, or heaven forbid, a failure: The main indicator is the participants and rank of representatives to be dispatched to Annapolis. The presence of foreign ministers and above would constitute success for the Americans (and also for Abbas and Olmert.) Their presence will turn the event into a respectable display of support that carries some weight. And if Syria decides to send its foreign minister to Annapolis, it would be a special bonus for the Bush Administration. However, should the most important countries, for example Saudi Arabia and Russia, only send their ambassadors, Annapolis will be a failure.
A second sign of success would be a joint declaration backed by the world: If an Israeli-Palestinian declaration is not read at the end of the summit, and if participants do not express their support for it, this will be a failure.
There should be no mistake about it: Our conflict is merely the “rack” on which the US Administration chose to hang its show of support in Annapolis. Maybe because this is the only Mideastern issue where an international consensus exists regarding its resolution (the two-state solution,) or maybe because this is a matter that is important enough and has enough media potential to justify the dispatching of representatives that will at least look like partners to the resolution effort.
Those who are absent will not only find themselves off the list of countries which the US engages in dialogue with and takes into account – they will also be condemned as objecting to peace-making efforts in the Middle East.
No Intifada in wake of summit
In addition to an overwhelming recognition of its leadership, the Bush Administration is interested in getting three more achievements out of Annapolis: International support for the Road Map outline, presented by Bush; recognition of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian people’s only legitimate representative (and the rejection of Hamas’ rule in Gaza); and de-facto recognition of Israel’s existence on the part of Arab and Muslim countries that have yet to sign an official peace agreement with it (Arab and Muslim support for the two-state model constitutes, in practice, recognition of the State of Israel, even if indirect; a sort of reaffirmation of the 1947 United Nations decision on the occasion of the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary).
All of the above should not be underestimated. Israel should be interested in boosting Washington’s status in the region as well as the accompanying achievements, which may appear minor but constitute additional steps on the long journey in the right direction.
Despite the apocalyptic assessments of top intelligence officials, there are almost no risks for Israel when it comes to attending Annapolis. It is already clear that no binding decisions that pertain to the essence of a final-status agreement will be taken (Olmert, Barak and Livni, partly thanks to Lieberman and Eli Yishai, were able to thwart Rice’s initiative to imbue the summit with genuine diplomatic-security substance, which could have served as a basis for future Palestinian demands without giving anything in return on their part).
In addition, it is clear that there are no great expectations from Annapolis on the Palestinian street. Therefore, there will be no outbreak of violence in the territories, or heaven forbid, an Intifada, in the wake of the event.
Whether the conference succeeds or fails, its immediate effect on everyday life between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea will be negligible. On the other hand, the conference will likely boost Abbas, who will receive international recognition of his exclusive right to lead the Palestinians and commit on their behalf. In addition, he will receive a nice benefit package from Israel ahead of the conference, which will boost his popularity and in any case won’t harm his image among West Bank residents.
For us, the cherry is, as noted, indirect recognition on the part of Arab and Muslim states, and the points we will be scoring with the Bush Administration and in international public opinion. We will need those very much, if and when the time comes to embark on a wide-scale Gaza Strip operation.
In addition, Israel will buy time to perhaps see our political leadership and the Palestinian leadership gain strength to the point of being able to reach and implement a binding agreement. By going to Annapolis, Olmert is promoted to the rank of “senior protected figure” by the Israeli Left – a position he may need should the investigations against him lead to indictments.
However, everything depends on the success of the conference, or more accurately, the way the international media chooses the label the event.